Posts Tagged ‘Four Brothers’

A comedian caught in Chinatown’s Tong wars

September 8, 2009

In 1909, Chinese-American comedian Ah Hoon was a well-known actor, performing regularly at the Chinese Theater. Located at 5-7 Doyers Street (pictured below in 1909), the theater was a popular venue for Chinese- and English-speaking audiences, who enjoyed the trip to exotic Chinatown. 

Ah Hoon belonged to the On Leong Tong, and he had a habit of making jabs at rival Tongs the Four Brothers and the Hip Sings while on stage.

Chinesetheaterdoyerssteet

Bad timing. A Tong war had just broken out, and rival Tong leaders didn’t like the jabs. So they decided Ah Hoon had to be killed. They warned him of his fate and even told him which day would be his last—December 30.

Ah Hoon took them seriously. He had a police presence on stage with him at the Chinese Theater that night, and he escaped to his nearby boardinghouse through a tunnel. On Leong members guarded the boardinghouse entrance.

Still, he was found shot in the heart the next day in his room. How did the rival Tongs get in? Apparently they lowered a gang member on a boatswain’s chair off the roof and into a window in Ah Hoon’s room. He murdered the comedian using a silencer.

The brutal murder of a Chinatown wife

June 26, 2009

The vicious killing of a Chinese “slave girl” named Bow Kum shocked New York City in 1909 and sparked a year-long Tong war and hard-won truce that required intervention from the Chinese government. 

Born in China in 1888, Bow Kum was sold for a few dollars by her father and brought to San Francisco, where she was sold again for $3,000 to Low Hee Tong, a leader of the Hip Sing and Four Brothers Tongs.

Mottstreet19202When Low Hee Tong was arrested four years later, Kum was taken in by Christian missionaries who helped Chinese girls escape the brutal life of gangs. 

A man named Tchin Len promised to make her his wife, so the missionaries handed her over, and Len brought Kum to New York City. Len was a member of On Leong Tong, a bitter rival of Hip Sing and Four Brothers.

Pellstreet1900They settled at 17 Mott Street. By this time, Low Hee Tong was out of jail. He tracked Kum down and demanded that Len repay him $3,000. Len refused; the Hip Sing and Four Brothers tongs got involved and told Len to pay up. He didn’t.

On August 15, Kum was found on the floor of her Mott Street room, stabbed multiple times in the heart with some fingers cut off. Two Tong henchmen were tried for her murder, but they were acquitted.

The top photo shows Mott Street around 1910; the bottom photo is Pell Street at the turn of the last century.